'Hijacked' Santa Claus the face of a thousand adverts

Santa Claus has been "hijacked" in Britain into becoming a Father Christmas of a "thousand adverts", a senior Church of England bishop warned today.

The Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans, said the message of "selfless" St Nicholas - the saint who inspired Santa Claus - had been lost in favour of "pester power" and materialism.

The saint, a fourth century bishop of Myra in present day Turkey, was renowned for his generosity and his love of children, Dr Smith said in his Christmas message.

According to one story, St Nicholas saved three girls whose family had been unable to pay marriage dowries from being sold into prostitution by throwing three bags of gold coins into their open window one night, he said.

Dr Smith urged parents to put inexpensive oranges and gold chocolate coins into children's Christmas stockings as a way of remembering the saint.

"It's sad that in Britain the selfless St Nicholas has been hijacked and has become the Father Christmas of a thousand adverts," he said.

"We are left with little more than a materialistic Christmas, less about giving and more about self-pampering. Pester-power rules OK."

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